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‘Is the community ready for it?’ Incoming Edmonton police chief lauds innovative policing strategy

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In September 2012, Samson Cree Nation leaders got an urgent call.

Local schools were “filled with young children dressed up in gang colours,” Chief Vernon Saddleback recalled.

Gangs were terrorizing the community 90 kilometres south of Edmonton with drive-by shootings, break-ins and violence.

Residents were demanding to know how the band planned to deal it.

The situation spurred Saddleback — then a newly elected councillor — and the band to adopt a radically different policing approach.

Now, a key part of the community’s safety strategy,  it’s known as the Hub model — a multi-agency intervention that mobilizes social services for those in need before harm is done.

One of the architects of the Hub model is incoming Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee, who was police chief in Prince Albert, Sask., when the strategy was pioneered in Canada in 2011.

“The Hub model saves lives,” says a paper co-authored by McFee in 2014. “It connects people at risk to the services that can help them, when they need them most. It stops crime before it happens.”

As McFee leaves his latest post as deputy minister of Corrections and Policing in Saskatchewan for his new Edmonton position in February, the Hub’s expansion throughout Saskatchewan and beyond is noteworthy.

Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback is helping nearby communities adopt the Hub community safety model. (Samson Cree Nation)

The model is used by about 140 locations in North America including Charlottetown, Ottawa, Toronto and Surrey.

The program is also quietly spreading in a pocket of central Alberta under Samson Cree and Maskwacis RCMP leadership. Proponents say the Hub model is among the initiatives improving safety in their community.

RCMP figures show an 11-per-cent decrease in the severity of crimes in Maskwacis from 2016 to 2017. The number of charges laid is declining. On-reserve suicides at Samson Cree are down, with just one this year compared to nine in 2015.

Rather than targeting youth associated with gangs, the Hub model focused on assisting their families. Instead of a culture of silence that once allowed gang violence to fester, residents now call police, said Saddleback. Hub members or a mobile mental health unit are dispatched to those in need.

“Nowadays it’s a different energy — people just feel safer and happier,” said Saddleback. “People are responding to try and make our community a safer and happier place to live.”

Nowadays it’s a different energy — people just feel safer and happier– Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback

In an interview with CBC, McFee extolled the benefits of the Hub model but said he needed to look at existing programs, compare the data and talk to people before deciding if it’s a fit for Edmonton.

“It’s pretty hard that it’s probably not a fit,” said McFee. “It’s more, is the community ready for it? And if they’re ready for it, who do we need to engage at that table?”

In February 2011, Prince Albert police launched the Hub model in response to escalating crime rates and police calls, and a recognition that enforcement alone was not the answer. The strategy was inspired by a program used in Glasgow, Scotland.

Within months, crimes against people and property in Prince Albert were down by at least 10 per cent. There were fewer calls for service. Other communities that have since adopted the model have tailored it to suit their circumstances but the formula stays the same.

How it works

Twice a week, representatives from community agencies,  police, child welfare, schools and other groups discuss cases around a “Hub table” for 90 minutes.

Information is shared, but some details are withheld, where necessary, to protect privacy.

The goal is to offer services within 24 to 48 hours to reduce risk factors such as substance abuse, mental health issues or family violence.  It often involves knocking on someone’s door or meeting with family members.

In Saskatchewan, McFee said, 81 per cent of police calls for service don’t lead to criminal charges. He suspects it’s similar in Edmonton.

“That right there tells you that we’re asking the police to be the social worker, the mental health worker and everything else,” he said.

It’s way more advantageous to the individual who needs the service and obviously it’s a heck of a lot more cost effective– Incoming Police Chief Dale McFee

The Hub takes people out of the justice system and puts them on the path to recovery while reducing demand for services. “It’s way more advantageous to the individual who needs the service and obviously it’s a heck of a lot more cost effective,” McFee said.

In Saskatchewan, the information is collected in a data base created with the Ministry of Justice and the University of Saskatchewan to shape policy and improve service delivery. Government staff support Hub tables by troubleshooting and fielding questions.

“At the end of the day you can’t fix what you don’t know,” said McFee. “So we use that data proactively to figure out how we can actually start to focus on the right thing.”

He emphasized the approach is not about being soft on crime, but rather being smart about community safety. “We need to put the bad people in jail and not the poor souls,” McFee told Edmonton media in November.

“If your only response is the justice system, what you tend to do is you don’t do a very good job of sorting intake and you overload your justice system.”

Reduced demand for services

In Edmonton, where the index that measures the severity of crime has remained higher than the national average for eight years, the police service collaborates with community partners on several programs that help divert people from the justice system.

The Heavy Users of Services (HUoS) program was introduced in 2013. An EPS analysis showed that clients, on average, have 64 per cent fewer visits to hospital emergency departments, 75 per cent fewer admissions to hospital, 84 per cent fewer inappropriate interactions with officers, according to an analysis by police.

An Edmonton police analysis shows the change in interactions for an average person involved in the Heavy Users of Services program. (Edmonton Police Service)

Despite that, new criminal court cases have nearly doubled in Edmonton to 46,000 since 2012. Calls for public drunkenness and mental health issues are up this year by roughly seven per cent.

In December, city council approved an extra $75 million to hire 101 new officers.

Chad Nilson, a scholar at the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies, studies the impact of Hub models in use.

Academic Chad Nilson says just five per cent of Hub clients refuse support. (Chad Nilson)

He developed the database now used by 100 Hubs across Canada, many of which he helped establish.

Nilson emphasized the Hub is a rapid intervention for people whose risk has drastically increased, not someone chronically at risk.

“Too often we wait until people are full into crisis and then our systems react. This is about getting individuals to those services sooner,” said Nilson. His research shows just five per cent of clients refuse support.

But he insists the model is not just for communities in crisis.

“To me your community’s desire to have a Hub should not be driven by any data,” said Nilson.”It should be driven by the desire to do better.”

‘A great fit for every community’

A version of the Hub is being embraced by three bands next to Samson Cree, the nearby communities of Ponoka and Wetaskiwin, as well as Enoch Cree Nation.

All have received training from Maskwacis RCMP and Saddleback.

Maskwacis RCMP Const. Morgan Kyle said while some prioritize the targeting of criminal behaviour, the root cause may be as simple as struggling to put food on the table.

Through the Hub, the team can ask families what help they need. The ability to share information among agencies that have traditionally operated in silos allows a full picture to emerge, Kyle said.

Kyle helped create the local training program for interested communities that couldn’t afford the official Hub training.

“We were asked to put together a training program and offer it to communities for free because we see the value in the Hub program and we don’t want finances to be limiting communities,” Kyle told CBC. “I just think it’s a great fit for every community.”

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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